The Politics of Presentation: Goffman and Total Institutions

Authors

  • Howard S. Becker

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      Direct all correspondence to Howard S. Becker, 884 Lombard St., San Francisco, CA 94133; e-mail: hsbecker@earthlink.net.
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Direct all correspondence to Howard S. Becker, 884 Lombard St., San Francisco, CA 94133; e-mail: hsbecker@earthlink.net.

Abstract

Erving Goffman's essay on total institutions exemplifies his solution to a major problem in the presentation of social science thinking and results: how can we describe concrete social phenomena without using the descriptive terms already in use in the organization studied? Existing terminology embodies the perspectives of participants in the organization and so accepts all of those people's conventional judgments. This makes it impossible to isolate a class of similar social objects about which generalizations can be made. Goffman avoided this trap by creating a neutral but specific technical language and by a rigorously comparative analysis.

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